The UK’s largest cities and towns are where we come together to work, live and play. The pandemic has reminded us that, with the benefits that come from city life, there also come risks. But the lessons from the 6,000-year history of the city are clear: they survive, adapting to and overcoming the challenges of disease, conflict and economic change.
Our research has shown the extent to which the pandemic has impacted people’s day-to-day lives, demonstrating that those living in cities and large towns have been hit the hardest by Covid-19.
The beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020 and subsequent introduction of national lockdowns saw a dramatic fall in mobility and public transport use in UK cities as millions of office workers quickly shifted to working from home.
That said, while it is too early to predict the long-term effect that the pandemic will have on urban places, we consider the recession brought on by Covid-19 to be very different to previous ones and so we should expect the UK economy and many of its cities to experience a sharp bounce back.
Now, with the economy gradually starting to reopen and the Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions in full swing, it’s likely that we’ll see changes in UK cities over the coming months.
The proportion of people able to work from home is often overstated. Our estimates suggest that people able to work from home are a minority in every single city and large town in the UK. London, Reading and Edinburgh have the highest shares of workers able to work from home – more than four in ten. Meanwhile, in Barnsley, Burnley and Stoke just two in ten people can work from home.
However, it is likely that the pre-lockdown working practices will change, with many people continuing to work from home for at least some of the week. However, this will not be a cost-free decision; many city centre shops and restaurants depend on custom from office workers and are likely to struggle if their weekday sales shrink.
While many have adapted smoothly to working from home, the benefits of face-to-face interaction are hard to replicate and working remotely means that we miss out on the spontaneous flow of ideas and the sense of camaraderie that being in an office creates. We will continue to need spaces to come together, collaborate and build relationships. Offices and co-working spaces are natural places to do this and city centres remain the most convenient places to locate them.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly shaken urban places to their core, but we should be cautious about rushing to the conclusion that the pandemic signals the death of the city.
Cities have always been centres of disease as well as prosperity. Density has its downsides as well as upsides and yet historically cities have survived and thrived, continuing to function as places where people gather to do trade, to learn and to have fun.
The more prosperous a place becomes; the more people head there to make their fortunes. This is even truer in the UK today where more high-skilled jobs are based in cities and large towns in the Greater South East than in the rest of the country.
Young people are likely to continue to head to cities to develop their careers and have fun. The number of twenty-somethings in cities’ centres tripled in recent years. Today, young people comprise half of the city centre population. This is unlikely to change in the near future.
While every part of the UK has been affected by Covid-19, UK cities and large towns have been hit the hardest, becoming unemployment hotspots. For this reason, they will play a particularly important role in creating jobs as we emerge from the pandemic.
Our research with HSBC UK examined growth patterns within the UK’s seven-year jobs miracle to inform how new jobs can be created as the Government looks to build back better and level up the country. This research identified that if patterns of the past persist, cities and large towns will be our main job creators post-Covid.
There are several things that national and local government can do to support their areas’ economic and social recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
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Switching to electric vehicles will help us on the road to net zero, but to reach our destination most of us will need to ditch cars entirely.
As the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic varies across the country, Centre for Cities tracks the recovery of high streets in Britain's cities and large towns.
What can we learn from spending behaviours on food deliveries and transport throughout the pandemic?
There are many ways of defining cities, but the one used should be selected for economic rather than political reasons.
Cities are big carbon emitters, but their density means they can also play a big part in reaching net zero.
Senior Analyst Elena Magrini and Researcher Tom Sells join Andrew Carter to discuss the main findings of their recent report on how Covid-debt and Covid-saving will shape post-pandemic cities.
While it may be comfortable for many older workers to remain at home, doing so risks limiting the professional development of the next generation.
This report, published in partnership with Clarion Housing Group, analyses how the pandemic has affected people’s spending, saving and debt, and evaluates what this means for the recovery of the UK’s cities and largest towns.
Researcher Guilherme Rodrigues explores the different data options available to best monitor how UK cities are performing and recovering in real time.
Nobody yet knows what the future of post-pandemic work looks like, but it may not be as different as some expect.